Filipinos are no strangers to natural disasters. Earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons and floods all have afflicted the archipelago of 7,000 islands that comprises the Philippines.
None of those events, however, caused the level of death and damage seen in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
With wind gusts up to 170 miles per hour, a deluge of rain and a 20-foot storm surge, so much destruction took place that for now it is impossible to accurately assess the wreckage, let alone address its affects.
Reports from eyewitness accounts and the few Filipino authorities available suggest staggering losses. Early estimates are that as many as 10,000 people may have lost their lives, with many others injured. And even though nearly 800,000 Filipinos evacuated in advance, up to 4 million people were directly affected, according to officials.
Typhoon Haiyan is “a category-one disaster,” said Daniel Wordsworth, the president and CEO of the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee. “It’s in the same realm as the Haiti earthquake and the 2005 tsunami.”
Just as it was difficult for governments in Haiti and many of the nations afflicted by the catastrophic tsunami to immediately and effectively respond, there are limits to what can be done in the Philippines. The government of President Benigno Aquino III has been focused on fighting insurgents, and many Filipinos were already living at the economic brink in a region plagued by poor infrastructure.
Filipinos clearly need the world’s help, and many nations and nongovernmental organizations have rushed to provide it. Asian neighbors including Japan, Taiwan and Australia have rushed medical teams and have sent money. The United States will surely show its customary generosity. On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry pledged “our full commitment to providing all necessary assistance.”
And international institutions such as the United Nations World Food Program, UNICEF, the Red Cross, World Vision, Doctors Without Borders and others have sent staff and supplies as quickly as possible.
Local efforts are underway, too. As reported in Monday’s Star Tribune, organizations that serve the 1,500 metro-area residents of Filipino descent have banded together to help. And the American Refugee Committee has dispatched representatives to establish a base of operation and integrate into the overall humanitarian response. Even this initial effort will be daunting, however. Wordsworth reports that it’s a huge challenge just to get aircraft to land in the area, and roads are often impassible because of debris.
Rescue and recovery efforts require many elements. But most important, they must be funded. Local donors may want to focus on this Thursday’s “Give to the Max Day” in Minnesota, when donations are sometimes matched in order to maximize their impact.
No matter when donations are made, however, it’s important to recognize that even after Typhoon Haiyan and the immediate needs of Filipinos are off the front page, survivors will face great challenges.
At times it may seem overwhelming — especially in the context of other natural disasters, let alone man-made crises in places like Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere. Yet that’s no reason not to try to help, Wordsworth said.
“It’s not so much about ‘compassion fatigue,’ ” he said, whether an individual contribution can make a difference in the face of a tragedy so huge. The answer is an unequivocal yes, according to Wordsworth.
“It’s always remarkable to me how possible it is to get a team of people on the ground, to get immediately grounded with a community of people that are really suffering, and to then very quickly begin to make a concrete difference in their lives.”